Since my conversion from a dancing master and a servant of the “Evil One” to an earnest Christian and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, the question has been repeatedly asked me: “Is there any harm in dancing?”
And letters innumerable have been coming in with questions to the same effect. The more I mingle with people outside the dancing circle the more forcibly I am made to realize how many there are who are seeking to know the truth concerning the evil of dancing, and how many thousands more who if they are not seeking that knowledge, certainly ought to have it.
Let me assure you in the first place that I am well aware that there are many church members and professing Christians who dance; but, if on the strength of this you deem it a safe amusement come with me for a few evenings, and when you have seen all that I can show you, let your judgment tell you whether you can, with safety, place your pure, beautiful daughter in the dancing academy or ball-room.
Henry Publishing Co, 1892.
Let us first take an instance from the “select” dancing academies and thus begin at the root of the matter.
Here is a beautiful young girl. Let me take her for an example.
She is the daughter of wealthy parents; they have been called to mourn the loss of two of their children; and this is their only remaining treasure, their darling their idol almost, whom they love more than their own lives.
They wish to bestow upon her every accomplishment which modern society demands, so when it is announced that Prof. ——— will open his select dancing academy they hasten to place her under his instruction.
At first she seems shocked at the manner in which he embraces her to teach her the latest waltz.
It is her first experience in the arms of a strange man, with his limbs pressed to hers, and in her natural modesty she shrinks from so familiar a touch. It brings a bright flush of indignation to her cheek as she thinks what an unladylike and indecent position to assume with a man who but a few hours before was an utter stranger, but she says to herself: “This is the position every one must take who waltzes in the most approved style—church members and all—so of course it is no harm for me.” She thus takes the first step in casting aside that delicate God-given instinct which should be the guide of every pure woman in such matters.
She is very bright and learns rapidly, but a few weeks have passed before she is able to waltz well, and is surrounded by the handsomest and most gallant men in the room, who flatter her until her head is quite turned. She has entirely overcome her delicacy about being embraced in public for half an hour by strange men.
In fact she rather likes it now. She wonders all day, before dancing school, if that handsome man who dances so “elegantly” and says such nice things to her will ask her to dance with him to-night, and finds herself dreaming of how delightful it would be to feel his arm about her.
The evening at last comes; the uninteresting square dances are gone through with, and the music of the waltz begins.
Her partner is the Apollo of her day dreams. He presses her close to his breast and they glide over the floor together as if the two were but one. When she raises her eyes, timidly at first to that handsome but deceitful face, now so close to her own, the look that is in his eyes as they meet hers, seems to burn into her very soul. A strange, sweet shrill shakes her very being and leaves her weak and powerless and obliged to depend for support upon the arm which is pressing her to himself in such a suggestive manner, but the sensation is a pleasant one and grows to be the very essence of her life.
If a partner fails, through ignorance or innocence, to arouse in her these feelings, she does not enjoy the dance, mentally styles him a “bore” and wastes no more waltzes on him. She grows more bold, and from being able to return shy glances at first, is soon able to meet more daring ones until with heart beating against heart hand clasped in hands and eyes looking burning words which lips dare not speak, the waltz becomes one long, sweet and purely sensual pleasure.
The more profitable things upon which she has been accustomed to spend her time and thought, lose all attraction for her, and during the time which intervenes between dancing school evenings, she feeds her romantic passion on novels, unfit for any person to read, and which would have been without special interest to her before she entered the dancing school. She spends much thought upon those things which tend to develop her lower nature, for “as a man thinketh so is he.” She has never before had a thought she would not willingly express to her mother. But now she thinks of and discusses with her girl friends of the dancing school subjects which she would shrink from mentioning to her mother.
O, foolish girl if she had but remembered that her best friend was her mother, and that thoughts she could not express to her were thoughts in which she should never indulge what untold sorrow and shame she might have been spared.
She graduates from the academy and is caught into the whirl of society, and her life becomes what is called one round of pleasure—one round certainly of parlor dances, social hops and grand balls with champaign dinners and early goings home (early in the morning, of course).
This evening there is to be a ball of unusual grandeur. The last of the season of gaiety, and the closing of the dancing-school term. Our friend will surely be present. Let us attend. What a scene of beauty, gayety and splendor. It must have been of just such scenes the poet wrote:
“There was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium's capital had gathered then—
Her beauty and chivalry”—
But see, there is our friend of the dancing academy just entering on the arm of her devoted father. Three months have passed since we first met her.
She is much changed, yet one can scarcely see in what the change consists. The face is the same, yet not the same. There is just the shadow of coarseness in it, a little less of … she feeds her romantic passion on novels, unfit for any person to read … frank innocence and true refinement, and a trace, not exactly of ill health, but a want of freshness. This last is, however, well concealed by the use of cosmetics, and she is still a very beautiful girl and the fond father's heart swells with pride as he sees the handsomest and most fashionable gentlemen of the ball-room press eagerly forward to ask her hand for the different dances of the evening.
Her father remains for a few of the square dances, but soon retires knowing that his fair daughter will not want for attention from—gentlemen whose attentions he is sure must be desirable, certainly desirable, why not? Are these admirers not rich and handsome, and do they not move in the highest society. Ah, foolish father, how little he knows of the ways of ball-room society.
But let us turn our attention again to the dancers at two o'clock next morning. This is the favorite waltz and the last and most furious of the night, as well as the most disgusting. Let us notice as an example, our fair friend once more.
She is now in the vile embrace of the Apollo of the evening. Her head rests upon his shoulder, her face is upturned to his, her bare arm is almost around his neck her partly nude swelling breast heaves tumultuously against his, face to face they whirl on, his limbs interwoven with hers, his strong right arm around her yielding form, he presses her to him until every curve in the contour of her body thrills with the amorous contact. Her eyes look into his, but she sees nothing; the soft music fills the room, but she hears it not; he bends her body to and fro, but she knows it not; his hot breath, tainted with strong drink, is on her hair and cheek, his lips almost touch her forehead, yet she does not shrink; his eyes gleaming with a fierce, intolerable lust, gloat over her, yet she does not quail. She is filled with the rapture of sin in its intensity; her spirit is inflamed with passion and lust is gratified in thought. With a last low wail the music ceases, and the dance for the night is ended, but not the evil work of the night.
The girl whose blood is hot from the exertion and whose every carnal sense is aroused and aflame by the repetition of such scenes as we have witnessed is led to the ever-waiting carriage, where she sinks exhausted on the cushioned seat.
Oh, if I could picture to you the fiendish look that comes into his eyes as he sees his helpless victim before him. Now is his golden opportunity. He must not miss it, and he does not, and that beautiful girl who entered the dancing school as pure and innocent as an angel three months ago returns to her home that night robbed of that most precious jewel of womanhood—virtue!
When she awakes the next morning to a realizing sense of her position her first impulse is to self-destruction, but she deludes herself with the thought that her “dancing” companion will right the wrong by marriage, but that is the farthest from his thoughts, and he casts her off—“he wishes a pure woman for his wife.”
She has no longer any claim to purity; her self-respect is lost; she sinks lower and lower; society shuns her, and she is to-day a brothel inmate, the toy and play-thing of the libertine and drunkard.
How can I picture to you the awful anguish of that mother's heart, the sadness of that father's face, or the dreadful gloom She is to-day a brothel inmate, the toy and play-thing of the libertine and drunkard. which settles over that once happy home. Neither their love nor their gold can repair the damage done. Their sighs and tears cannot restore that virtue. It is lost, gone forever. Ah, better, yes, infinitely better, would it have been if instead of placing their only darling in the dancing school, they had laid her in the grave by her little sister's side while her soul and soul was pure an spotless.
But how is it with her ball-room Apollo? Does society shun him? Does he pine away and die? Oh, no; he continues in the dancing school constantly seedling new victims among the pure and innocent.
Like flowers the choicest ones are plucked first and most admired their beauty soon fades and they are cast aside for new ones. Parents, do not discredit my statement. There is no mistake; I know whereof I speak when I say that just such villains as I have described are to be found in, and leaders of, the select dancing school in the ball room and at the parlor dance, figuring in what is called the best society, as the most refined and highly polished society gentlemen of the day.
Nor is the ballroom scene an imaginary one.
I have seen it, just as described, hundreds, yes, thousands of times and have known of many and many a case with the same sad ending.
Do not delude yourself, my dear reader, with the thought that such scenes occur only at low public dances. Some of the lowest and most disgusting deeds of which I have had any knowledge, have occurred at and in connection with the most fashionable parlor dances.
The following infamous deeds were done on one of the principal avenues and at the home of one of the most aristocratic families of this city.
The occasion was a fashionable dance of which I was manager.
There was present the creme de la creme of the city's society. Among them two beautiful young women who were actors in the play I am about to put before you. The play is in five acts.
The first scene is of exquisite loveliness. It is a large drawing room, elegant in all its appointments. Its coloring as seen by gas light is soft rich, and beautifully blended or prettily contrasted. Its pictures are rare bits of art from the brush of the most popular artists of ancient and modern times, and all its ornamentation is forcibly suggestive of culture and refinement. All these things we feel rather than see, for our attention is riveted upon the gay company assembled.
We bear the hum of many voices and see before us scenes of fair women and handsome men, diamonds flash silks rustle, and no garden of flowers ever displayed a greater variety of rich and dainty color intermingled or flashed more brightly its gems of morning dew. But hark! From behind that bower of blossoms and evergreens in yonder recess come strains of music which set the little white slipper to tapping out the time as its wearer waits impatiently for the waltz to begin, and now the room presents a scene of whirling, whirling figures.
Notice particularly this couple near us and that one in yonder corner for I know them well. The ladies are beautiful and respectable.
To be sure, one not accustomed to such scenes would consider them anything but respectably dressed, with their nude arms, neck and partially exposed breast and tightly clinging skirts which more than suggest the contour of body and limb.
But society and fashion demand such dress; vile men demand it; for them the waltz would be spoiled of half its pleasure if the woman was not as nearly nude as she dare be.
The male companions of the two girls are handsome and fashionable but of their character not so much can be said except in condemnation. They are certainly pleasing, and are in every way endeavoring to be so to their young lady companions, and appear to have succeeded very well in their efforts, for, as they whirl over the floor they gaze into the eyes gloating over them and gleaming with a fury of lust. They allow words to be whispered to them which they would not listen to at any other time; listening now, they come closer still and in response to a pressure of her hand, his arm tightens its clasp of her waist, and she, losing all restraint, yields herself to the evil passion of the moment. Thus the fury of lustful thought becomes mutual and is mutually enjoyed.
The second scene is in a summer house. Only four characters are required for this act. They are the four we have particularly noticed in the ball-room scene.
This, too, would be a pretty scene, if the pleasure of it were not spoiled for us by the evil we see in it and know may result from it. The summer house covered with vines and flowers is in a beautiful garden filled with shrubs and trees. The night is calm and cloudless, and the silvery moon looks sadly down upon the scene through the branches of the trees.
The girls have been invited to retire thither for rest and refreshment. The men have previously arranged with a servant for the refreshments with plenty of old wine provided for their use, and now they urge the ladies to partake; saying they will feel refreshed and be sustained by it for the remainder of the evening.
After much coaxing and pleading they are induced to take a glass. This accomplished, the men feel that their object is as good as achieved. The wine soon has a visible effect upon the unaccustomed brain, and the girls are easily induced to drink more.
The third and fourth acts are only repetitions of the first and second, and the last and fifth takes place behind the scene. The curtain must fall between us and the going home scene in two hacks to which the half intoxicated girls have been conveyed by brutes in human form.
We only know that these girls are now unable to resist, if they were to try, the deed of shame their male companions are bent upon doing, in that closed carriage, whose driver has been ordered to go slowly, and we know what has taken place, as in after days we see these girls no more in respectable society, although their accomplices still appear as most elegant and highly respectable gentlemen, alias ball-room Apollos.
This tragedy, my friends, was acted out in real life, and is only a sample of hundreds and hundreds of cases of which I have had personal knowledge.
“But,” some mothers say, “I know that I can trust my daughter. The waltz may be the means of leading astray some shallow low-minded girls, and may arouse the lower nature of some of those whose lower nature lies very near the surface but such girls would go astray anyway. My daughter is a pure, high-minded girl and I am sure she is trustworthy.”
I am glad she is. Keep her so, my friend, keep her so. Do not risk making her otherwise by placing her under the greatest temptation that can possibly come to a girl.
If you place her in the dancing academy or ball-room she cannot and will not remain what you say she now is and she has but a comparatively small chance of escaping ruin—comparatively only a small chance, I say.
It is a startling fact, but a fact nevertheless, that two-thirds of the girls who are ruined fall through the influence of dancing. Mark my words, I know this to be true. Let me give you two reasons why it is so. In the first place I do not believe that any woman can or does waltz without being improperly aroused, to a greater or less degree. She may not, at first, understand her feelings, or recognize as harmful or sinful those emotions which must come to every woman who has a particle of warmth in her nature when in such close connection with the opposite sex; but she is, though unconsciously, none the less surely sowing seed which will one day ripen, if not into open sin and shame, into a nature more or less depraved and health more or less impaired. And any woman with a nature so cold as not to be aroused by the perfect execution of the waltz, is entirely unfit to make any man happy as his wife, and if she be willing to indulge in such pleasures with every ball-room libertine, she is not the woman any man wants for a wife. It is a noticeable fact that a man who knows the ways of a ball room rarely seeks a wife there. When he wishes to marry he chooses for a wife a woman who has not been fondled and embraced by every dancing man in town.
It is also noticeable that after marriage few men care to dance, or to have their wives dance.
The second reason why so many dancing girls are ruined is obvious, when one considers how many fiends there are hanging about the dancing schools and ball-rooms, for this purpose alone, some of them for their own gratification, and others for the livings there is to be made from it. I am personally acquainted with men who are professional seducers, and who are to-day making a living in just this way. They are fine looking good conversationalists and elegant dancers. They buy their admittance to the select (?) dancing school by paying an extra fee and know just what snares to lay and what arts to practice upon the innocent girls they meet there to induce them to yield to their diabolical solicitations, and after having satisfied their own desires and ruined the girls they entice them to the brothel where they receive a certain sum of money from the landlady, rated according to their beauty and form.
Can you wonder when the degrading lust-creating influence of the waltz itself is united with the efforts of such vile demons of men as I have described, that two-thirds of the dancing-school girls are ruined.
It is a greater wonder that any of them escape. The question is often asked: If what you say be true, why do not more of the dancing girls become mothers? I will tell you why. It is because they dance away all fear of maternity. It is the knowledge that the dancing floor exercise will relieve if they get into trouble that makes many a woman bold enough to take risks.
Dancing and drinking invariably go together. One rarely finds a dance hall without a bar in it or a saloon within a few steps of it and sooner or later those who dance will indulge in drink, which is the devil's best agent in the carrying on of the vile business transacted in, and in connection with, the dance hall.
“First and Last Step” is the first chapter of From the Ball-Room to Hell.
THOMAS A. FAULKNER was the former Proprietor of the Los Angeles Dancing Academy and ex-President of Dancing Masters’ Association of the Pacific Coast, when he wrote the anti-dance treatise From Ball-Room to Hell in 1892. In the book he argues that dancing school are the kindergartens of brothels. “To close the doors of the brothel,” he writes, “close first the doors of the dancing school.”